On Nov. 6, four states — Washington, Maryland, Maine and Minnesota — will vote on referendums involving same-sex marriage, but they don’t all do the same thing. If the measures win in Maryland, Maine and Washington, it would actually legalize same-sex marriage; in Minnesota, if the measure fails, it will prevent a ban on same-sex marriage from being put in place but it won’t actually legalize same-sex marriage.
In Maryland, the legislature passed a law legalizing same-sex marriage on March 1, 2012. Question 6 on the ballot next week is phrased as a vote in favor or against that law. So a yes vote on that question would result in complete marriage equality in that state. The polls have been pretty consistently in favor of marriage equality over the last few months, but the most recent poll apparently shows a “dead heat” on the issue.
In Washington, Referendum 74 would change the law to allow same-sex marriage in that state, so a yes vote is in favor of marriage equality and a no vote is against it. The most recent poll in Washington show the referendum ahead by a slim margin, 49-45%.
In Minnesota, it’s the exact opposite. Amendment 1 would put a ban on same-sex marriage into the state constitution. But it’s already banned by statute in Minnesota, so even if this referendum fails it would not legalize same-sex marriage. It would still be important, though, because the shift in public opinion in favor of equality would make it more likely that a future legislature would repeal the statutory ban. The polls on this one are very close, with the most recent one showing 49% opposing the ban and 46% supporting it.
Maine is the most unusual situation. Question 1 is phrased clearly enough: “Do you want to allow the State of Maine to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples?” But Maine voters approved a ban on same-sex marriage in 2009 after the legislature approved a bill allowing it, so this would be a fairly quick reversal of the earlier referendum. A recent poll found 55% support for marriage equality.
Opponents of same-sex marriage have consistently argued that the polls overstate support for equality. We’ll find out next week whether that’s true or not. I think marriage equality is going to pass in at least a couple of these states and I think this year is going to be viewed in the future as a major turning point on this issue. By 2016, I predict that we’ll see referendums to repeal earlier bans on same-sex marriage in several states. And given the rapid shift in public opinion on this issue, I think this will actually be a boost for Democrats instead of Republicans. Within 12 years, I think marriage equality will be the norm in this country rather than the exception.